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Evening dress

Designer Madeleine Vionnet French

Not on view

Madeleine Vionnet is indisputably one of the most influential designers of the twentieth century. She did not sketch, but instead worked three-dimensionally on the figure, draping her garments on a reduced-scale dress form that she could manipulate in the round. Her mastery of the bias-cut technique, and its elevation from details and hidden finishes to defining feature, has inspired many to incorrectly attribute this discovery to her. Vionnet did, however, pioneer many of the innovations that the bias cut permitted, facilitating advances in modernizing women’s clothing. Her devotion to the figure and sensitivity to fabric, combined with her virtuosic patternmaking abilities, resulted in some of the most discreetly revolutionary designs of the 1920s and ’30s. This dress from her spring 1931 collection evidences her timeless synthesis of comfort and elegance. A flowing scarf, cut in one with the bodice, provides an asymmetric bow closure at top. The skirt is composed from layers of translucent tulle, their sinuous curves echoed in the swags of flowers that have been embroidered in a lustrous kaleidoscope of beige, rose, ivory, copper, and gold rayon floss. Vionnet took a measured approach to embellishment; rather than serving as a primary means of distinction, it was always subservient to the purity of cut and line.

Evening dress, Madeleine Vionnet (French, Chilleurs-aux-Bois 1876–1975 Paris), silk, rayon, French

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© 2019 Nicholas Alan Cope